Decisions made in our younger and middle years define our later years. To make strong aged bones, a healthy body and a flexible mind, now is the time to make intelligent decisions for keeping the body/mind/spirit strong and vigorous.
Life is about change. All is transitory in life save that which is of the Spirit. Loss can be sobering. It sets us back on our heels—asking us to take stock. In youth we give credence to beauty, health, security, material goods and career gain. However, strength, agility and physical beauty are the outer trappings of the human being that fade with time. Likewise some friends, loved ones and a job identity can be of a temporary nature. Acceptance of this theme of inevitable losses with grace prepares us for the final and greatest task—death.
Virginia Satir said, “Humans are made to integrate loss. Each loss makes another gain,” It is through acceptance of losing things, those unessential parts of our life, that we become loose. With grace and understanding, loss can help us to become looser. Loss can help us find a more fluid version of ourselves.” Those who are on the sincere spiritual journey honor this transformational game of gain and loss.
Self-exploration is a way of taking stock of our lives as we march down the years. Gaining maturity though working out life’s lessons helps bring about balance. Balance is accomplished by subtracting what there is too much of and adding what is lacking of a deeper nature. As old negative beliefs and defense mechanisms that no longer fit are discarded, insights and breakthroughs happen.
The symbol-laden unconscious provides rich fodder to deal with the resignation and despair that loss brings. Spiritual transcendence is transforming the rigid ego attachments into acceptance of self and others. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung described a major task of later life where the ego and the self can become integrated. Wisdom gained throughout the lifetime helps transform losses and suffering through reflection and introspection.
Aging with grace means to spend more time being present in the moment instead of living in the past or worrying about the future. Staying present requires that we become more aware of our pain, our joys and the big and small rites of passage that dot our lives. We can sit with our emotions to process them and glean what wisdom we can. And then risk going into the unknown of the shadow self where there is rich fodder to explore.
As we move toward elderhood, there’s the opportunity to give up overemphasis on material goods, drama, gossip and self-created chaos. The self-absorbed indulgence of youth can be replaced with a generous spirit leading to actions. Research shows that as people mature, altruistic behavior increases. A generosity of heart and spirit indicates good mental health and a willingness to let go of unnecessary attachments. Indeed the true spirituality path leads to service.
The older years can be a time for giving up some of the worldly pursuits and move into the simplicities. That which is true and beautiful becomes even more so—the innocent smile of a child, the first violet after the winter, the cobalt blue of the teapot, a Palo Verde tree glistening with dew drops, the holiness within our soul. Deep friendships become more meaningful. We can return home to our innocence that we gave up so many years ago as small children.
Small fruits shine when we learn to just be in the process of becoming who we are. Conscious aging demands that we take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. We can insist on being pathologically honest with ourselves. We become spunkier and refuse to take nonsense from others or from ourselves. We learn to act as if what we choose makes a difference—because it does. In making our choices from the simplicity of the wise Sage or the Wise Old Woman part within, we honor our process of growing into our true selves.
Losses, which inevitably come with aging, can better be watched with a Zen-like detachment as we step back and look at the aging process. Taking stock of the role of loss in life, we can say with detachment, “Oh, that’s what it’s like to have loss of vision. Ahhh, now I have lower energy. So this is what it is about. So, I’m getting forgetful. Well, some things I don’t need to remember. I need to make better choices as to what is memorable.”
Graceful aging bids us to concentrate on gratitude. It’s a time to drink deeply from the cup half full, seeing the fullness of it. During those difficult times when the cup appears half empty, then that too is faced with the philosophy of resilience and a willingness to keep looking within. The Zen saying reminds us, “The obstacle is the path.” All is there for the lessons.
Lynne Namka is a practioner of American Shamanism who mentors individuals with their spiritual journey. Another version of this article appeared in Namka’s book, A Gathering of Grandmothers: Words of Wisdom from Women of Spirit and Power. Connct at, TucsonShaman.com. See ad, page 35.